Some coaching principles that might help avoid those awkward moments when dealing when upset or angry players or parents.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that it’s an honour and a privilege to coach. In thinking about some general principles that might guide coaches I came up with 5. If coaches follow these in their own style then they are less likely to have those awkward and stressful situations with players and parents.

1. Have fun

      How long do we persist at something when it ceases to be fun? Sports are meant to be enjoyed. Coaches need to use a sense of humour when dealing with situations as this American college coach explains.

      2. Communication: clear, explicit and consistent

          Make sure your instruction and messages are heard, understood and followed.

          Coach’s Tips:

          • Make sure the on court players sit and face you on the bench during a time out [for younger players practice this]. This means having their drink bottles organised.
          • Before the ends of time outs ask a player to repeat your instructions usually in 1 or 2 words.  This checks if your instructions were clear and the players heard them.
          • During training sessions ask players the why question – why are we running shuffle? Or why does the postman set 2 screens? This checks their level of understanding.

          3. Positive reinforcement or as I like to say ‘making deposits before withdrawals

            When we make positive comments to reinforce a skill learnt, or a block out or rebound during a game we build confidence in the athlete. Confident players take the risks we ask them as they read the defence – they don’t become robots in a set play. We often see players follow our instructions to the tee and don’t seem to think or read the play – it’s often because they are afraid of making mistakes.

            Coach’s tips

            • Before correcting a player error acknowledge something positive – particularly the effort.
            • When teaching a complex skills use the verbal and visual. This means demonstrations are important. If you have to prompt a player physically do so with the skill in mind e.g. holding their elbow at the correct angle. Physical assistance should be rare and never in anger: walk away when it gets to this.

            4. Planning: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”

              Most coaches plan their training session and game strategy as this American coach explains. They look at the performance of their players and work on skills providing feedback that is clear and explicit.

              What often trips up coaches in my opinion is when there is no substitution plan. You can have up to 10 players, some who can play in 2 or 3 different positions [centre, forward or guard] and others in a single position. Start the game with a plan that will have had all 10 players having some court time in the first 30 minutes. This leaves the coach the flexibility to have the players he or she needs on the court to start and finish the game.

              Remember no player ever got better sitting on the bench. This is also the one pressure point ‘court time’ that gets most coaches of junior players in conflict with parents.

              Coach’s tips

              • Start the season with some clear team expectations. These might include:
              1. No train no play [or reduced coach allocated court time] all players expected to ring the coach if away.
              2. Arrive 30 minutes before each game – late arrival means reduced allocated court time [have a plan for the 30 minutes that includes 10 minutes warm up – stretching etc.. 10 minutes [max] coach talk]
              3. All players are expected be supportive of the coach, each other and the team by following the designated plays [or reduced coach allocated court time], encouraging the good play of others who are on court and listening to and following the coaches instructions [refer player code of behaviour]
              4. During training and during games players are expected to follow the coaches instructions which includes paying attention [e.g. not bouncing the ball while coach is speaking] and practising the skills between sessions.
              • Start the game with a substitution plan on paper. Some coaches have a team manager on the bench supporting them following their plan.
              • Use a payback method where some players get more court time in games that have a large score difference. So when your team is up be 20 or more points start to rotate the players. The aim here is not equal court time over a season for representative teams it’s about increasing court time where possible to improve player performance.

              5. Goal Setting

              Winning is important but so is the long term skill development of your players. Set these goals in a clear and explicit way with your players. You may have goals about rebounds, or assists, or blocks, or reduced turn overs etc… Note I didn’t say points as they are the outcomes of the performance of these other skills.

              Coach’s Tips

              • If you have goals acknowledge the performance of the players towards these goals. Someone who took 10 defensive rebounds may have been the winning factor not the shooter who made 10 points from 20 attempts.

                Finally a word on dealing with the parent or player who has these awkward moments with you as the coach after all this has happened.

                If you as the coach use humour when appropriate, are a clear communicator who checks the message is heard and understood, use positive reinforcement, carefully plan games, training and substitutions, set high but realistic goals and provide individual and team feedback then you’re doing really well.

                If you’re doing your job but you still get the player who is mucking up then its time to look at the player:

                • Be firm and remind him/her of the team expectations providing a warning where appropriate.
                • If you get a chance have a quiet word away from the others – ask what’s causing the behaviour – often it’s a frustration e.g. not agreeing with the team rules, not getting enough court time – explain why.
                • Some coaches can see potential and want to form an individual plan with targets at training that if achieved mean an increase in the allocated court time. Stick to your word if the plan is set.

                If you have been consistent, fair, patient and honoured your words then one must ask the question why the player at this representative level is there and suggest another club, team or sport.

                As for parents who approach you it’s usually in the heat of the moment at the end of a game. If you have made things clear at the start of a season e.g. no train no play or reduced court time if late, or not following the coach’s strategy plans and reduced court time then a simple explanation can be forthcoming.

                Its consistency in following the rules that gets coaches into trouble. Sometimes we as humans also get it wrong and in those cases its best to listen and acknowledge.

                I hope this helps and the Special Olympics coaches guide again has some very useful self analysis tools to help you work out your principles and style as a coach.

                I hope this has been useful and if there are any principles I haven’t mentioned please post me a message.